A Hamburger Today
A Tour of a Singaporean Wet Market
Warning: slideshow includes photos of fish heads and other recently alive animals.
Singapore can seem like a country where no one cooks at home. And when you have kopitiams, hawker centers, eating houses, and countless stands selling noodles, durian, tofu, and pig organ soup—all for under $10 SGD a pop—you can forgive the local who doesn't want to turn on the stove.
But of course Singaporeans do cook and eat at home, and when they shop, there's no better place to go than the wet market. It's a jumble of fresh seafood, meat, produce, spices, and sometimes also connected to a marketplace for clothes, housewares, and home goods.
Wet markets are so named because their floors are slick, as seafood shops can be, with the melted ice used to keep the fish fresh (okay, and a little bit of stray fish gut). Shoppers pass from stall to stall buying fish, prawns, crabs, bivalves, sharks, and the like from individual vendors. Meat and poultry stalls are nearby, where you can find everything from halal chicken to sheep heads to pre-made burger patties.
From there you can move on to fresh fruit and vegetables: bananas hanging from the ceilings of stalls, coconut shredded on the spot, and of course the floating stink of durian that you smell well before you see. Look for pandan, the fragrant herb that flavors so many of the country's sweets, as well as cakes of gula melaka, butterscotchy raw palm sugar that—no joke—may change the programming of your sweet tooth.
If you can get over the surf and turf aroma of plucked chicken and chilled crab, you'll probably work up an appetite while you shop. If the wet market is large enough, it'll have a hawker center attached. This particular market, Tekka Center, caters primarily to the South Indian population in Little India, so there was biryani, roti prata, and teh tarik ("pulled" spiced tea) aplenty.
Wet markets are at their busiest during the morning, when home cooks are scrambling for the best seafood, meat, and vegetables. If you want to have a more leisurely visit, consider going in the early afternoon after the crowds have died down but before vendors start closing down their stalls.
665 Buffalo Road, 210665, Singapore (map)
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